Guest post: The Indian Head Tilt

My (I like to think) long-awaited ‘A Vagabond’s Guide to Travel in India’ series is all written and just awaiting upload. And, as a primer, today’s post is a guest post on the most vital aspect of any communication in India – The Indian head tilt, also known as the Indian head wobble.

I would have struggled to sum up what the gesture indicates, but Arthur, who originally wrote the piece for The Listserve lottery, has done a fantastic job. I inquired with him as to whether he minded my passing on his brilliant summation to a few more people, and he happily agreed.

Here then, without further ado, is Arthur:

You just landed in India. You’re a bit stressed: it’s absolutely normal. But let me just tell you a simple thing, and everything will go just fine. In a matter of days, the Indian in you will be fully awakened.

The head tilt.

This is a very simple gesture: just tip your head from side to side with a small angle (around 15°), repeatedly. Don’t make it start at the top of the head; your chin should be driving the movement. Limit yourself to three or four tilts, in a fluid movement. Got it? Yes, you’re doing it right.

You just learnt the secret to Indian communication. A stranger is talking to you in an unknown language? Just concur, using your newly learnt skill. Congratulations! You successfully communicated. Look at the visible satisfaction in your new friend’s eyes.

Huh? You still don’t understand what it means? You’re puzzled by this taxi driver’s use of the gesture when you give your destination? Was it “yes”, was it “no”?

No, you’re not getting it: it doesn’t have a meaning, because it IS the language. Does English have a meaning?

But the comparison with English stops here. The tilt head is much more powerful. What other language allows you to communicate “I reluctantly agree to the price you have given me, but be aware you get all my contempt” with such concision?

Warning: Excessive use of the tilt head may severely impair your communication skills back at home. Use at your own risk.

Warm regards,
Arthur Cheysson


*Many thanks to Arthur for agreeing to allow me to share his piece. ‘A Vagabond’s Guide to Travel in India’ starts tomorrow, in which I’ll have suggestions for arranging train tickets, buying sim cards and avoiding getting groped during festivals (I lie. There’s no way to avoid getting groped at festivals. Save not going to them).

7 thoughts on “Guest post: The Indian Head Tilt

  1. Thanks for hosting my piece. As for avoiding groping at festivals, there is a way but it is not without downsides as sex change operations are usually not completely reversible.

    NB: however being male, either originally or by construction or disguise won’t protect you from paint-splashing Indians during Holi.
    Being female has actually a few select advantages, especially in dealing with male cops, security guards and other authority holders who usually get really embarrassed when dealing with women. It doesn’t compensate the rest, but nice to take anyway!

    • Maybe next time I’ll just wear a mustache and stuff a sock down my pants. If nothing else, maybe it’ll confuse people long enough for me to make my escape.

  2. Pingback: A Vagabond’s Guide to Travel in India | On the Road to Ithaca

    • You know, I usually delete spam comments but I find this one oddly charming so it gets to stay.
      I think it’s the use of ‘pleasant’ and ‘thus’.

  3. Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one
    and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments?
    If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any assistance is very much appreciated.

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